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Event inspires community enterprise

A FREE landmark event aims to help rural communities save vital services and reverse the trend of rural decline.

The Big Lottery Fund's Village SOS national conference will be held on Monday, 27 February, at the Burlington House Hotel, Birmingham.

It will see experts gather to support rural communities by inspiring innovative business ideas with potential to rejuvenate rural villages.

Held in the wake of the television series Village SOS, a range of experts from across the rural and social enterprise sectors will be on hand to show stakeholders how they can set up community enterprises – from shops and pubs to local food and transport projects.

Lottery fund chairman Peter Ainsworth will chair the event.

"Every year hundreds of local amenities such as shops and pubs close down in rural areas," he said.

"The effects of this, along with limited transport options, rural isolation and lack of employment opportunities for young people, can all strike at the heart of village life.

"The Village SOS national conference will help people to tackle all this by bringing together support, information and expert advice on a scale never seen before."

Other delegates will include Peter Couchman, chief executive of the Plunkett Foundation; David Button, chairman of Co-operatives UK, Sylvia Brown, chief executive of Action for Communities in Rural England; and Steve Wyler, chief executive of Locality.

All are partners on the Big Lottery Fund's Village SOS programme which provides support to communities setting up community enterprises.

Mr Couchman said: "This is a challenging but exciting time for rural communities. Although facing new challenges, they are increasingly turning to themselves to address the issues they face."

The conference would give communities the tools and inspiration to go about tackling these issues themselves by setting up new enterprises, said Mr Couchman.

Business and funding experts will also be in attendance. So too will be planning and marketing professionals and community enterprise pioneers.

They include Fordhall Farm, the country's first ever farm to be owned by its community; and Cybermoor, a revolutionary broadband community enterprise that has transformed broadband services for the most remote parish in England.

The day will feature specialist workshops on topics like business planning and accessing finance - as well as debates on issues facing rural communities.


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